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The Pump Handle Story

John Snow, M.D. (1813--1858), a historical figure in epidemiology, provided one of the earliest examples of using epidemiologic methods to identify risk for disease and recommend preventive action.

On August 31, 1854, London experienced a recurrent epidemic of cholera and Snow suspected water from the Broad Street pump as the source of disease.  Snow reviewed death records of area residents who died from cholera and documented that most of the deceased had lived near and drunk water from the pump. Snow presented his findings to community leaders, and the pump handle was removed on September 8, 1854.

Removal of the handle prevented additional cholera deaths, supporting Snow's theory that cholera was a waterborne, contagious disease. Snow's studies and the removal of the pump handle became a model for modern epidemiology and is considered to be a symbol of the importance of public health.

Today, many take a public health professional's oath, or the "Pump Handle" oath, to affirm or reaffirm their commitment to the field of public health.

Our Public Health Professional’s Oath

In dedication to these high goals, on my honor, and with a clear understanding of these obligations that I as a public health professional have accepted, I do, this day, commit myself.

As a public health professional, I hold sacred my duty to protect and promote the health of the public. I believe that working for the public’s health is more than a job, it is a calling to public service. Success in this calling requires integrity, clarity of purpose and, above all, the trust of the public. Whenever threats to trust in my profession arise, I will counter them with bold actions and clear statements of my professional ethical responsibilities.

I do hereby swear and affirm to my colleagues and to the public I serve that I commit myself to the following professional obligations.

In my work as a public health professional:

  • I will strive to understand the fundamental causes of disease and good health and work both to prevent disease and promote good health.
  • I will respect individual rights while promoting the health of the public.
  • I will work to protect and empower disenfranchised persons to ensure that basic resources and conditions for health are available to all.
  • I will seek out information and use the best available evidence to guide my work.
  • I will work with the public to ensure that my work is timely, open to review, and responsive to the public’s needs, values, and priorities.
  • I will anticipate and respect diverse values, beliefs, and cultures.
  • I will promote public health in ways that most protect and enhance both the physical and social environments.
  • I will always respect and strive to protect confidential information.
  • I will maintain and improve my own competence and effectiveness.
  • I will promote the education of students of public health, other public health professionals, and the public in general, and work to ensure the competence of my colleagues.
  • I will respect the collaborative nature of public health, working with all health professionals who labor to protect and promote health.
  • I will respectfully challenge decisions that are contrary to supporting and protecting the public’s health.
  • In all that I do I will put the health of the public first, even when doing so may threaten my own interest or those of my employer.